Christmas was different, very different. It only really dawned on me how different as I strolled through Dublin airport on St Stephen’s morning at 7.45 rather than 5.45.
But that wasn’t what made me realise it.
How I knew how different my life is now was the feeling I had or actually didn’t have.
No nerves, no wanting to be left alone, wishing I was invisible and avoiding eye contact with as many people as I could.
Not because I wanted to be rude when I was riding, I just wanted to be left alone to think, concentrate, run races over in my mind. I didn’t like or enjoy small talk.
“Hello, happy new year” was the extent of any conversation I wanted to have with any one I didn’t know.
This year Christmas just slid by, over too quick, and I talked to a few people in Dublin Airport as I waited patiently and happily, rather than agitated and anxiously for my flight.
No real pressure, no nervous anticipation of what could go wrong or fears about the day ahead.
My research was done, and I was heading to Kempton to enjoy the racing like 99% of the other people there.
It was good racing too.
Epatante announced herself as a leading Champion Hurdle contender, but the King George never caught fire like I hoped it would.
Cyrname never went and Lostintranslation looked beaten after a mile.
Clan Des Obeaux backed up on last year’s win with a fine display of jumping to give Sam Twiston-Davis a huge Christmas bonus. It was also Paul Nicholls’ 11th King George success.
My highlight, though, was watching Patrick Mullins execute a well-thought-out plan aboard the evergreen Faugheen at Limerick.
As they raced down the hill to two out you sensed one good, fast jump would seal the deal for Faugheen — and Patrick duly went for the jugular. Fortune always favours the bold, and that jump two out did just that.
Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins trained a big winner each, but I fancy both went home on the night of the 26th scratching their heads a little about the performances of a lot of their runners.
Both had far too many fancied runners beaten to allow one good winner to satisfy themselves that Thursday was a fruitful afternoon’s work.
Looking ahead to a busy weekend, we start off with Jon Snow in the opening maiden hurdle at Leopardstown.
We had high hopes for him being a two-miler but when Patrick rode him in Cork, he was adamant he wanted to go up in trip, and hence we’re going up to two and a half today.
I think he’s a very good horse. I’m sure he was an expensive failure for many when he ran in Cork, but he should make amends today. We also run Runrized.
The trip should also suit him, but I think Jon Snow is fractionally the better horse.
In the Pertemps Qualifier we have Eight And Bob, who was very disappointing in Haydock, and the handicapper may just have him.
Great White Shark, on the other hand, is improving rapidly. She has to jump better than she did last time, but I think she will over three miles and she could be really well handicapped.
Defy Du Mee is having his first run after a long lay-off.
In the two-five beginners’ chase Allaho is going to be the nap, but his danger is his stablemate, Easy Game. They are two good horses, but I think Allaho could be anything.
In the three-mile Grade One Bacardys, Killultagh Vic, and Penhill take on Unowhatimeanharry and Apple’s Jade.
Bacardys has run against Apple’s Jade twice this season and finished in front of her both times. I think he will confirm that form, but I think Penhill will have improved a lot for the run at Fairyhouse and could be adarkish one.
In the Savills Chase, you have a fine field but Road To Respect’s form looks the strongest. He won the Grade One at Down Royal beating Clan Des Obeaux and that fellow bolted in in the King George on St Stephen’s Day.
It’s Kemboy’s first run since winning in Punchestown, when he gave me a huge day.
Bellshill will love the soft ground, and I’m sure Presenting Percy will have improved for his run in the John Durkan, but I firmly believe in form — and you have to believe in form — Road To Respect is the one to beat.
We run Ferny Hollow in the bumper, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Patrick bucked him out and let him gallop, and hopefully they won’t be able to catch him.
We run Hybery and General Counsel in the opening maiden hurdle in Limerick, and if I had the pick I’d be going for General Counsel.
In the next maiden hurdle, we run Equilibrium. It’s an auction maiden hurdle and looks an ordinary contest.
Her run in Clonmel is probably to 100, which still mightn’t be good enough, but I think she’ll love the trip and the ground.
We run Redhotfillypeppers in the Tim Duggan Memorial and I think she has a great chance. She ran well in the Troytown and I think this is a drop down.
She won here last year, so clearly likes the track.
We run Stones And Roses in the rated novice chase. He’ll love the ground and loves jumping fences, but two miles is sharp enough for him.
Back to Leopardstown for tomorrow’s meeting, Dad runs Roxboro Road in the first race, a handicap chase. He could be of interest if you’re doing accumulators.
In the next race, Willie runs Francin and The Big Getaway. The Big Getaway would definitely be my choice, and he’s another nap.
Paul had a tough choice in the mares’ hurdle, and he has gone for Stormy Ireland. But Elfile is a fair mare as well.
The weights suggest Stormy Ireland should win — she’s rated 147 and Elfile’s only 140, and Stormy Ireland is getting 3lbs, so she’s 10lbs well-in with her but I think Elfile is a fair mare over two and a half miles.
Carefully Selected runs in the Grade One novice chase, where he takes on Battleoverdoyen and Minella Indo.
When all is said and done, I think Carefully Selected will be on top of these horses.
When they’ve gone toe to toe for the best part of three miles and it gets dirty from the back of the last, I know which side I’d like to be on.
In the Matheson Hurdle, you have Aramon, Darasso, Klassical Dream, Petit Mouchoir, Sharjah, Coeur Sublime and someone has pressed D for Apple’s Jade — obviously in case she falls early in the three-mile hurdle today.
I’m in the Klassical Dream camp and I’m going to stay there.
He needed every yard of the two miles to beat Aramon here last year, but I think he will turn the recent form with Petit Mouchoir, and Sharjah was too far behind them in the Morgiana to take that as Sharjah’s run.
Maybe you should take him more on what he did here last year. But Coeur Sublime really caught my eye at Down Royal and if you’re reading this column and you have a fancy for Coeur Sublime, don’t let me put you off.
In the mares’ beginners’ chase tomorrow at Limerick, we run Ifyoucatchmenow and Cut The Mustard.
I think Ifyoucatchmenow ran better than the naked eye might suggest when fifth at Navan and I’d be recommending you put her into your bets tomorrow.
In the Grade Three four-year-olds’ novice hurdle we run Franco De Port.
This is a very good race — Surin is a 140 horse and so is Gardens Of Babylon. Franco De Port won in Gowran so who knows what that form is worth. He’s not the flashiest sort at home but he goes nicely.
We run K’chou Du Pecos AA in the unplaced maiden hurdle.
I don’t know what happened him in Tramore, but his Clonmel run would be good enough to win the race.